How do Dave Rebeck and Eugenia Uhl, proprietors of Piety Street Snoballs and the refreshment gatekeepers to tourists wandering from the French Quarter to the Bywater, create their insanely popular Vietnamese coffee snoball? By making some Vietnamese coffee and pouring it over the snow. What about the reliably refreshing lemon basil? They grabbed some lemons from a tree in their front yard. You get the idea?it seems that each Piety Street snoball is a happy accident of circumstance and sudden inspiration, making the stand a perfect fit for the ad hoc food renaissance in the Bywater. Eater spoke recently with Rebeck, who had his first snoball on a visit to New Orleans back in 1996. A year later, he was putting down roots in the city and dreaming of a promising future in snoball alchemy.
What led you to open a snoball stand in the Bywater, and how has the reception in the neighborhood been so far?
The reception has been great. I feel like every week, more new people come. Business has been steady, and the buzz has been positive.
One of the park entrances to the new riverfront park is right near one of the footbridges, so it seems like that will bring some extra traffic. We were open two summers ago for about two months, then we closed and I reopened last July. We were one of the first places to open around here, but I've lived here, in New Orleans, for 15 years, and in this neighborhood for something like 13 years. Another big part of why I wanted to open something was that it seemed pretty obvious that the neighborhood was going to change, and I saw an opportunity to be a part of the change and keep things the way I like them.
I also started this market here because we've been trying to make something happen with this property to get ready for the actual completion of the park, since that's when it's going to be possible for people to walk from the French Quarter to the Bywater on the riverfront. They'll cross that bridge and the first thing they'll run into is the property here. It's a long-term project, but that was the vision?to have a cool spot in the neighborhood.
I started this flea market first, and then, that spring, the owner offered me a spot in the kitchen to do a snoball stand. It all just sort of came together from there. It was an idea I'd had ever since I came to town in '97?I wanted to update snoballs with trends of food in general, using fresher ingredients, things like that.
What are some of your favorite flavors? What are some of the most popular?
Pretty much all the flavors we've created have developed their own little followings. There are about half-a-dozen that have become our really big sellers?my favorite is the lemon basil.[Photos: Todd Voltz]
It sounds like a good summer snoball...
Yeah, well, snoballs are basically only popular in the summer. We get a lot of tourists, so I stayed opened through the winter this year just to see what it was like.
The real thing I see happening is that tourists come and they get snoballs because it's on their checklist of 'things to eate while in New Orleans.' They might not even care if it's hot. I had visited the city about five times before I moved here permanently, and every time I came, all the snoball places were closed, so I never got to try one. That was another reason why I decided to stay open all year.
Did you have a favorite snoball spot before you opened Piety?
I had a snoball from Plum Street back in 1996, and that pretty much did it for me. That was really the only snoball I'd ever had, and at the time, what I really wanted was something that didn't have quite so much sugar and food coloring.
How do you come up with new flavors?
Our most popular flavors are Vietnamese coffee (by far the most popular), lemon basil, rose hips raspberry, hibiscus pomegranate, kaffir limeade, cherry nectar, and mint lime. That's pretty much it?people order other things, but those are the flavors I pretty much have to keep making constantly.
I guess that sort of answers part of your question?we're trying to have a well-rounded flavor menu, so when we introduce a new flavor, we're trying to make sure it's fresh and original. Mostly, I ask people what they want. I also have my own inspirations. The way I came up with Vietnamese coffee was I just figured I needed something with caffeine in it so people would come to my snoball stand for the caffeine fix. It sounds bad now that I'm saying it out loud [laughs], but I'm always looking for a coffee place that has exactly what I want and that isn't too far away. I'd been into Vietnamese food for a while, and I'd always get Vietnamese coffee, which I thought would work pretty well as a flavor by itself. It does?all you have to do is make Vietnamese coffee and pour it over the snow. It's perfect.
Since we started, I've been too busy to be more creative, so I'll grab ideas as they come. We started making lemon basil, for instance, because we had a lemon tree in the front yard and it seemed like a good idea to use some of those. A friend had told me about a lemon basil gelato he'd had in Italy, and from there, it was just about finding the right ratio.